Eleventh Circuit Upholds Mini-Miranda Warnings and Maintains That Individual Caller’s Identity Not Required to Satisfy FDCPA

Eleventh Circuit Upholds Mini-Miranda Warnings in Initial Voicemail to Debtor, Maintains that Individual Caller’s Identity Not Required to Satisfy Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

Gilbert Oladeinbo*

Recently, in Hart v. Credit Control, LLC, No. 16-17126 (11th Cir. 2017), the Eleventh Circuit determined two questions of interpretation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA).  First, the Eleventh Circuit held that an initial voicemail by a debt collector to a debtor falls within the FDCPA’s definition of a communication, thus requiring a disclosure that the debt collector is “attempting to collect a debt and that any information obtained will be used for that purpose.” 15 U.S.C. § 1692(e) (11).  Second, the panel determined that the identity of a caller acting on behalf of a debt collector, is not required for purposes of meaningful disclosure under § 1692(d) (6) where both the name of the debt collection company and the nature of the company’s business have been disclosed. Hart, No. 16-17126 at 11.

 In March 2015, Stacey Hart (Hart) received a call from Credit Control, LLC (Credit Control), a debt collection agency.  Id. at 2.  Because Hart was unable to answer the call, Credit Control left a voicemail which stated that: “This is Credit Control calling with a message.  This call is from a debt collector.  Please call us at 866-784-1160.  Thank you.” Id. at 3.  Similar calls and voicemails were made to Hart for a continuing period. Id.  Consequently, Hart filed a complaint in the Middle District of Florida alleging that Credit Control violated the FDCPA by failing to make the required disclosures for initial communications in its first voicemail to her; and that the individual callers on behalf of Credit Control failed to identify themselves by name in any of the voicemails. Id.  Credit Control filed a motion to dismiss the complaint. The district court granted the motion to dismiss.

The appeal revisited the judgment of the trial court granting Credit Control’s motion to dismiss Hart’s complaint on grounds that Credit Control did not violate § 1692(e) (11) because the initial voicemail was not a communication within the meaning of the statute. Id.  Also, the Eleventh Circuit reviewed the holding of the district court that Credit Control did not violate § 1692(d)(6) because Credit Control had provided enough information not to mislead the consumer as to the purpose of the call. Id.  By this appeal, the panel was required to decide whether a voicemail left by a debt collector constitutes a “communication”, and what information will constitute meaningful disclosure under the FDCPA. Id at 2.

The Eleventh Circuit reversed the holding of the district court that the initial voicemail was not a communication. Id at 11. The panel relied on the broad definition of “communication” under §1692(a)(2) and held that the voicemail conveyed information regarding the debt, the debt collection company, and other instructions to return the call to Hart. Id. at 5-6.  Because the initial voicemail was a communication, Credit Control’s failure to disclose to Hart that they were attempting to collect a debt and that any information obtained will be used for that purpose violated the FDCPA. Id. at 7 – 8.

On a different note, the Eleventh Circuit upheld the holding of the district court that Credit Control provided meaningful disclosure of its identity to the debtor, without any further requirement for the individual identity of the caller. Id. at 11. The panel recognized the silence of the FDCPA on what constitutes meaningful disclosure and the conflicting debates by lower courts on identifying a suitable definition. Id. at 8-9. The panel reasoned that “an individual caller’s name is only ancillary to the debt collection company’s name and adds little value to the consumer who seeks to complain about the debt collection company’s behaviour.” Id at 9.  As such, meaningful disclosure is provided if the caller reveals the name and nature of the debt collection company’s business.

 

*Gilbert Oladeinbo a member of the 2017-2018 Editorial Board for Georgia Law Review.

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